Battle Princess of Arcadias Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3
As an interesting blend of RPG and 2D side-scroller, Battle Princess of Arcadias occupies a fairly unique niche in the gaming world. It might put a lot of people off with its cutesy anime aesthetic, but it’s a game that’s clearly been made with a lot of love and which hearkens back to old school brawlers and Japanese role-playing games. Overall, the combination works nicely – but unfortunately the game presents plenty of other problems which prevent it from achieving its potential.
The story centres, unsurprisingly, around a Battle Princess. Her name is Plume, and she leads a brigade of warriors to protect her kingdom from the monsters that roam the land. Together with a party of nine other characters, she uncovers a plot by the mysterious Ruinaria to destroy humanity, and sets out to stop it. What exactly the Ruinaria want, aside from the aforementioned destruction, is never really explained, and the story as a whole is extremely shallow. The characters stumble from random mission to random mission, often without any real goal in mind or comprehension of what is going on, and events play out haphazardly as the game staggers towards its finale.
It doesn’t help matters that the characters themselves are rather hollow. A collection of dull stereotypes, they spout the most peculiar nonsense and never invite any kind of interest. Plume herself is irritatingly stupid – at one stage she even fails to realise that death is permanent – and her co-stars are either similarly dense or entirely insane. Not uncommonly, in fact, they are both. Stranger things have come out of Japan than the storyline of Battle Princess of Arcadias, but you know you’ve stepped into something bizarre when the main character’s brother is a goose. That’s not a euphemism, by the way. He is literally, and inexplicably, a goose.
The quality of the game’s presentation does little to help players invest in its world, either. The graphics are of a childish anime sort which will not be to everyone’s tastes and which, though deliberately styled this way, look rather amateurish. Most of the monster designs are fairly average and some of them even seem borrowed from elsewhere; the first enemy you fight looks bewilderingly like the Pokémon Groudon. This isn’t to say that the game is unpleasant to look at. The colour palette is bright and varied, but you expect better from a game you're dishing out for. On the other hand, the music and sound are decent enough, though only the Japanese voice track is available. As embarrassing as English dubs often are, it might have been nice to have the option.
Fortunately, the gameplay goes some way to saving Battle Princess of Arcadias. For the most part, it plays as a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, with individual missions chosen from a world map. In standard battles you’ll have a party of three characters, only one of whom is on the screen at any time, but whom you can switch between at will. Each character uses a different weapon and has different attributes, and you’ll be asked to fight your way through waves of monsters as you advance through the stage. While it’s not quite as precise as it could be – you’ll often find yourself watching on as an attack comes flying at your face, frantically pressing the block button but having no impact on proceedings – the combat is still fun enough to be a welcome distraction from the game’s uneven plot.
Behind all of this are also RPG mechanics. Characters level up as they defeat enemies and complete missions, and can be equipped with better weapons and accessories. The weapons themselves can also be enhanced using treasures earned from missions. Different items have different effects, such as boosting the attack stat or charging the weapon with a certain element. The system is simple but has sufficient depth to be effective, even if it’s not particularly engaging.
There are additional battle modes to keep things interesting, too. In Skirmishes your characters will fight in the foreground while the Princess Brigade does battle in the background. When a platoon’s morale drops to zero you will lose them, and if you lose all your platoons you fail the mission. Boss fights are the third mission type, and will see you teaming up with the Princess Brigade to take down the biggest enemies the game can throw at you. In both Skirmish and Boss battles, you can issue commands to the Brigade and change their tactics, and also use special abilities to overwhelm your foes.
Unfortunately, these modes are somewhat tarnished by control problems, as issuing commands is unnecessarily awkward. First, you hold the R1 button and press the triangle to replace the item menu with the command menu. Then, still holding the R1 button, you cycle through commands by pressing the square and circle buttons – a setup which also, incidentally, prevents you from using any attacks. Finally, you release the R1 button and use the circle to issue the command you want (and if you want to use items again, you have to go through the whole thing in reverse). Why the D-pad couldn’t have been used instead, when it serves practically no other purpose, is an unanswered mystery.
There are other, more general problems with the gameplay as well. You’ll quickly learn to hate ranged enemies, who can spam you with so many attacks that you can’t even get up off the floor. The difficulty is uneven at times, so that for some missions you’ll be a harbinger of death and for others you might as well be fighting with a teaspoon for all the damage you’re doing. Grinding will become something of a feature, which is particularly arduous given that each character levels up individually, rather than earning shared party experience.
Not only this, but the platoons into which the Princess Brigade is split are organised by weapon type, and are level capped according to the party member who uses that weapon. So, for example, the marauder platoon can be the same level as axe-wielder Rudolph, but cannot go any higher. If you don’t want a particular platoon to be uselessly weak, you’ll find yourself levelling up the corresponding character whether you want to use them or not. Given that platoons have varying strengths and weakness against one another, it can leave you at a major disadvantage if you fail to be diligent with your party.
When the combat gets going, Battle Princess of Arcadias is an enjoyable game to play. The grinding, however, will see you completing the same stages over and over again, and tends to suck the fun out of it. With the storyline so ramshackle and the characters so difficult to relate to, there are no treats on the other side, and finding the drive to push through these moments can be difficult. In the end, despite some good work in combining RPGs and side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, it’s difficult to recommend Battle Princess of Arcadias to anyone but the most ardent fans of either genre.